In An Age Before – Part 61

  'Twas much later, as Ithil waned and the stars wheeled o'erhead, that Helluin and Beinvír lay at rest in their chambers.  Beinvír lay giggling softly while'st indulging in the fancy of imaginatively untwisting and straightening the trees that she had seen in the garden.  She fancied rousing them from their vegetative stupors and hearing their slow and lengthy complaints about limbs that had fallen asleep.  Beside her lay Helluin, reliving her voyages of exploration with Veantur long ago.  The Noldo was't deeply enmeshed in her memories, oblivious to 'aught else, and so 'twas the Green Elf who first marked the presence of one of the black cats entering their chamber.  Straightaway it padded to their bed and proffered a limp rat.

  Now Beinvír shook off her revels and regarded it eye to eye in silent converse, first thanking it for its offering, but assuring the felid that neither she nor Helluin had any use for a dead rat, For we art travelers, ever afoot, and hath not the means to carry such treasures, nor as the queen's guests hath we the need to sup upon them.

  Hon, 'tis just a dead rat, the cat told her lightly as it seated itself, explaining further that, 'tis more the weight of tradition rather than its intrinsic value which dictates that I approach thee offering such.  Indeed not even a common cat would sup upon a rat, save only at the greatest need of hunger.  I merely bear it hence in obeisance to protocol and the etiquette of the court.

Ahhh, I see, Beinvír said, taking the rat and setting it upon a side table, thou art a fair and gentle creature at heart and a noble in thy own right.

To this the cat offered a graceful dip of its head and right shoulder, accented with a drawing of its forepaw in the manner of a courtly bow.

Indeed so, it asserted, as art we all…the black cats that is, or for the most part at least, though there art a few knaves amongst us, it confessed. 

Beinvír caught herself rolling her eyes and restraining herself asked, So whyfore hath thou come hither at such an hour?  What business hath thee?

  Why, said the cat, I hath come hither upon a matter of the greatest urgency, whose telling bears heavily upon all in this realm.  Indeed 'tis a great fortune that thou and thy companion hath come hither, for we trust none in all this land to hear what we hath uncovered.  The cat gazed intensely at the Green Elf, who returned its stare with curiosity.  Beinvír was't skeptical, but thought it best to harken the animal's rede, for certainly it at least was't wholly convinced of the gravity of its tidings. 

  Allow me to roust then my companion, Beinvír said, for surely 'aught of such importance should be heard also from thy mouth by Helluin.

  To this the cat nodded enthusiastically and Beinvír reached out and gently shook her lover's shoulder, calling softly, "Helluin, arise and pay heed.  We hath a visitor bearing fell tidings of great import."

  Helluin grumbled and roused herself from her memories, raising and shifting her head to survey the room.  She fixed upon the black cat and then turned to her partner and raised an eyebrow in question.  The Green Elf nodded in confirmation and Helluin shifted her attention back to the cat.

  "Say on, O Pelted One," she said softly.  "What grave tidings doth thou bear?"

  Now the cat licked a paw in preparation, and pausing a heartbeat, posed much as would a scholar preparing to turn a page.  'Twas obviously well pleased to hath their undivided attention.  An important mission it was't that she had undertaken and 'twas going well despite the doubts of the black company and the o'erbearing demeanor of the white cat.

  Whether or not thou believe me, I speak only truth, and though surely disputed by some 'paler parties', the cat said, indulging in more than a hint of sarcasm, (and pausing to sneer at this reference to the white cat), I must convey my findings.  The Queen is mad…indeed she hast ever been so, in my humble opinion, while'st the white cat is long and secretly in league with the Great Enemy.  She then sat still with her tail curled about her feet, attentive and awaiting their reaction.

  The two ellith looked at each other in surprise.  T'were very grave, the cat's claims.

  Indeed I hath held some such suspicions ere ever we came to the city, Helluin confessed to the cat, and I would hear thy proofs.  Some references hath we heard hither in the lands of Gondor.  What know'th thou of these things?

  The cat looked slyly at the Elda and asked, Dids't thou see 'aught of seafood upon the queen's table?  When the Elves shook their heads 'no', the cat continued with, Indeed never is the bounty of the waves and streams presented at the Lady's board.  Imagine!  All the wealth of the waters so near to hand she doth scorn.  Beautiful fish, scallops, clams, crawfish, mussels, crabs, shrimps, and…and lobsters in lemon butters!  She declared the last with an almost orgasmic moan.

  Perhaps like the flowers and thy fur, Queen Berúthiel is allergic to seafood?   Beinvír asked.

  Bah!  She is allergic to none.  Ever hast that claim been her excuse.  Nay, friends, she is quite mad, the cat declared with certainty.

  I believe thee wholly, Helluin said straight-faced, for I hath oft marked the tic of her right eyelid.

  Here the cat nodded enthusiastically in agreement.  Beinvír looked skeptically at her partner, but held her peace.  The cat continued.

  She is deemed a witch by many hither in the southern realm, the cat told them, though 'tis more truly the conviction of her madness that confers upon her the simulacra of a mantle of supernatural power.  Thou saw the garden and thou marked her attire?  Such hast seeded rumors amongst the people, and being oft absent their lord, they feel consigned to the rule of a disturbing stranger they understand not.  Hence their prejudice against her southern origins hath whelped claims of witchcraft and the practice of dark sorcery.  'Tis prejudice abetted by the lady's…whimsies. 

  We had heard aforetime that her witchcraft stands proven by her converse with her cats, Beinvír stated, though not without sympathy in her tone.  'Twas a point the cat refuted with yet another revelation.

  Indeed she speaks at whiles with the white cat, but only doth he speak to her by virtue of the spells cast upon him by the Enemy.  He whispers in her sleeping ear and she finds herself thus privy to Men's secrets.  In acting upon her acquired knowledge, Men see the results of divination and spying…and in her tolerance of us, these poor superstitious folk deem they hath discovered her spies.

  Yet thou claim that she speaks to him, Beinvír noted.

  Indeed she does; in the idle way of all Men to cats.  Say more truly that she speaks AT him, expecting neither understanding nor an answer.  He plays well the part, never acknowledging her 'here kitty, kitty' any more than would any other cat.

  So he is indeed in league with Sauron?  The Green Elf asked.

  Just so.  You see, my friends, the white is unnatural.  Indeed he is no cat at all, but rather a daemonikin, a small spirit of discord in feline form, loosed upon the kingdom for the achievement of his master's errantry; to promote instability in the monarchy.  He acts to undermine the faith of the people in diabolical yet subtle fashion.  This he can'st afford, for time is no object to him.  When the two ellith only stared at her in disbelief, she told them, by the oath of my mother and others of our foremothers o'er many generations, we know that the white cat hast ever been in the queen's company, even ere she came hence to Gondor, and that alone now o'er thirty years past.  By some dark enchantment Lady Berúthiel marks not his unending life.  Indeed she is bewitched as well as mad.

  Helluin knitted her brows in response to the cat's latest claim.  At table the white cat had seemed very much a cat and no more.  She wondered howsoever to prove or disprove the black cat's charges.

  I must take my leave of thee now, friends.  Indeed I hath already tarried longer than wisdom would dictate.  Ever the white spies upon the rest of our company.  'Tis not safe for me to oft speak alone with thee, however 'tis enough to hath delivered my tidings.  Therefore I bid thee farewell for this time.

  With that the black cat took three silent strides and leapt thence to the window ledge.  Thither it gathered itself ere proceeding hence upon the exterior molding, and a moment later 'twas swallowed up by the dark of night beyond.  Helluin and Beinvír were left alone to brood o'er the possibilities they had heard and the evidence they had seen.  They took no more rest that night, but rather lay abed, facing each other in the dark and commenting to each other in silence eye to eye.  Not even did they react to the near silent padding of feet as the white cat looked in on them an hour later.  With a knowing blink it marked the rat upon the side table ere taking its leave to stalk the palace shadows.  The Elves agreed that there was't one other at court with whom they had to speak.

  Now following the morning's meal and the early session at court, Helluin and Beinvír managed to engage the Prince Tarciryan in conversation.  They found him a serious Man of noble mien, with surprisingly little ambition and a great regard for his elder brother, King Tarannon.  He was't content to serve his liege as Steward and attend upon the queen in his absence, even allowing his son to accompany his lord upon many voyages by ship.

  "So my Lord, thy son Eärnil is abroad with the king?"  Helluin asked.

  "Indeed so and oft, for 'tis to him that the crown of Gondor shalt fall should Lady Berúthiel fail to bear an heir.  That possibility looks ever the more likely as the years pass.  Alas for my brother and the line of Anárion."  The prince sighed.

  "The king grooms Eärnil thus, as a captain of Men and ships?"

  "Yea, he sees little possibility in these latter days for an heir of his body, and so he stays ever longer upon the sea.  'Tis now 2 years since last he sat upon the throne in Osgiliath.  Much doth the people grumble as a result.  They trust not Berúthiel, the less the longer she rules in King Tarannon's stead."

  "Whyfore doth the king remain so long away?"  Beinvír asked.  "We hath heard that with the defeat of the Easterlings by thy great-grandsire, thy realm hast known peace."

  "My brother is a Man of action more than negotiation, and he is a great king," Tarciryan began, though the two ellith could hear the reservation in his voice, "and ever he seeks to increase the security of Gondor.  Yet in doing so, he hast fancied himself with no alternative but to engage the Men of Umbar.  If the east be long secure, then to him the south must be a threat left for him to conquer.  'Twas always so with him, even as a child.  His youthful contemplation of the rivalry 'twixt that people and ours, which is deep and comes of old, hast blossomed into the obsession of his maturity."  After a pause, the prince added, "My brother's disappointments in marriage hath made all the more focused his antipathy for Umbar, for Lady Berúthiel hails from amongst that people."

  The Elves nodded in understanding.  King Tarannon had displaced his domestic frustration upon a hereditary enemy and was teaching his chosen heir to carry on that hostility.  Perhaps even the king favored his loyal brother's son o'er the spawn of a woman he had grown ambivalent about.  In many ways she had strained his relationship with his people, and though seemingly loyal to him, she had failed to produce a son.  'Twas a first for the ruling line in Exile.

  "Of Berúthiel what sense thou, O Prince?  She seems much concerned after the welfare of the folk of Gondor," Beinvír asked.

  "Ever she hast been so in word and deed," Tarciryan replied, "and yet she hast ever been strange to us.  At her first coming she was't accompanied by 'naught but a white cat rather than by maids-in-waiting as would a proper noblewoman.  Upon her marriage, which some rumored was't indeed the outcome of her bewitchment of our king, she prompted edicts unpopular amongst the people.  There is also the garden thou hast seen, her mode of dress, her personal preferences and prohibitions, and her refusal to quash such deleterious rumors as hath spread about her.  She deems such 'neath her station such that  I was't much surprised when upon thy arrival she contrived to join her ancestry to thee, O Helluin."

  "She brought from her homeland only a white cat?"  Helluin asked in surprise.

  "Indeed so," Prince Tarciryan said softly, and here he took a nervous glance about them, "and if it be not the very same cat as accompanies her yet, I mark not the difference."

  He had finished in nearly a whisper and a troubled look ruled his features.  The Elves hid their astonishment.  His words seemed to confirm the claims of the black cat.  At that very moment they were passed by a whirlwind of fur, a streak of black and white pelting down the hallway where they stood, and sure enough, 'twas the white cat chasing a black.  For all intents and purposes the white seemed bent upon exacting some vengeance upon it.  The two disappeared 'round a corner in a skittering of claws.

  Helluin and Beinvír looked at each other and then at the prince.  He was't still looking to the wake whereat the cats had fled.  When he returned his attention to Helluin and Beinvír he seemed even more troubled.

  "I hath no great knowledge of the ways of cats," he claimed, "yet from time to time I hath seem such aforetime, and ever 'tis the white pursuing a black.  I know not if 'tis the same black, for truly I cannot tell one from the next, yet at times the count of the blacks seems diminished, though ever to be replaced.  Indeed 'tis much reduced at present, for in past years they hath numbered as high as 47, all attached to Berúthiel and accepted by her despite her allergies.  'Tis a great source of distrust for her amongst the people.  Yet I doubt not that the blacks art natural cats.  Unlike the white, the blacks I hath seen spawned, I hath seen them as kittens and young cats, and watched them grow enfeebled by age.  Oft hath I fancied that the white rules the blacks with an imperious hand…err, paw."  He sighed in confusion.  "In truth I hath been more troubled of late by its doings.  T'would seem Lady Berúthiel spends ever more time napping, and ever doth the white lie curled beside her as if the two were holding counsel while'st abed."

  The two ellith regarded the prince with disturbed expressions.  Here was't yet more confirmation of the black cat's rede.

  Now as the day progressed, Beinvír and Helluin explored the palace.  Upon a time they came to the Chamber of the Palantír, and entering it, found no custodian in attendance.  The room was't but dimly lit by a sparse row of small clerestory windows encircling the domed central ceiling.  The Seeing Stone of Osgiliath sat upon its pedestal, shrouded 'neath a heavy, black velvet drape, and by the dust settled upon it, they deemed it had not been viewed in some years.  Helluin shook her head.

  "In days of old was't the mutual security and fraternity of the north and south kingdoms ensured by the Seven Seeing Stones, yet now t'would seem that practice hath been abandoned," Helluin remarked.  "'Tis a bad sign, this estrangement of the realms of the brothers of Númenor."

  Beinvír nodded in agreement.  "A house divided is the sooner to fall," she muttered

  "Aye, and a realm divorced of its king shalt fall the soonest."

  Helluin looked about the chamber.  To her acute Elvish eyes their own footsteps marking the faint dust lying upon the flooring stones spoke of a long desertion.  None had even come hither in many years.  She shook her head.  None were likely to come hither now.  With a last glance at the closed door behind them, she strode close to the pedestal and swept off the black cloth, revealing the Seeing Stone.

  The Palantír of Osgiliath was't the master stone of the realms of the Dúnedain in Exile.  It measured in diameter o'er the length of  Helluin's hand and forearm together.  Thither it sat, dark and silent as a chunk of black volcanic glass.  Beinvír looked on nervously as Helluin regarded it and she moved to Helluin's side.

  "What intend thou, meldanya?  I fear the queen would be greatly vexed were thee to gaze upon the stone without the king's leave."

  "'Tis to speak with the king that I desire," Helluin said, then at the look of confusion from her beloved, she added, "nay, not Tarannon.  No stone hath he aboard his ship, I wager.  Rather I seek to hold converse with Lord Amlaith in Arthedain, who sits now upon the throne of Elendil in Annúminas."

  Beinvír eyed her in confusion.

  "Whyfore doth thou seek to take counsel with the son of Eärendur?  Not in 800 years hath one of his house set foot in the south."

  "He is now the eldest son of the eldest son, and he the eldest son through many fathers of the last Lord of Andunië.  He should know 'aught of what transpires in hither realm.  Elendil intended never that his twin realms should remain ever in segregation.  By right of birth, Amlaith is lord of all the Dúnedain whether his own father willed it or no.  And I mean all the Dúnedain, not in Arnor only, but in Gondor as well.  Ere a brother's son of King Tarannon takes the crown, the right Lord of the Dúnedain should reclaim the line of succession as it stood in Westernesse of old."

  "My love, art thou not meddling?"  The Green Elf asked.  "I cannot imagine King Tarannon favoring the rule of a northern cousin o'er his chosen heir."

  "King Tarannon is but a step from bringing his realm into needless war with Umbar.  If not he, then surely Eärnil shalt do so in his time.  I deem this the ploy of the Enemy, to sap thus the strength of the southern realm, thereby to compliment the sundering of the northern realm.  Herein he is laying the foundation of the ruination of Men which shalt be the first goal of his return."    

  Beinvír could only nod in agreement.  Her beloved's analysis she could not gainsay.  All too well did the Noldo perceive the ways of her great enemy.  As the Green Elf looked on, Helluin stood before the stone and commanded its sight.

  In a heartbeat the stone lit from within, illuminating the chamber with a leaping phosphorescence, and showing the viewing chamber of Annúminas.  Little changed did it appear since the time of Elendil.  At the flaring of light within the palantír in the northern capitol, its custodian hastened into view.  The shock upon his face as he came eye to eye with Helluin was't well 'nigh comical.  Through the stone, Helluin constrained the Man's attention with her glance.

  I am Helluin Maeg-mórmenel of the Host of Finwe, known of old to the fathers of thy kings.  Hear my tidings as I stand in the city of Osgiliath.  In days to come the line of Anárion may falter, and thy lord, being the eldest son of many Heirs of Isildur, eldest son of Elendil, will thence be rightful in claiming the throne of a restored realm of the Dúnedain in the north and south.  I bid thee harken to the succession in hither realm of Gondor, for I deem the Great Enemy opens his hand with the estrangement of the Númenóreans in Exile.  Stand thou together.  Say thus to thy Lord Amlaith in Arthedain.

  Helluin blinked, releasing the custodian's will, and ere the man could question her she snapped shut the connection. 

  "Well 'tis done," she said as she returned the drape to its place o'er the palantír.  "I wonder if they shalt harken?"

  "I think t'would be for the best if we took now our leave," Beinvír said nervously.

  As if her words had triggered the hand of fate, the door of the viewing chamber squeaked open and the white cat drew its head and forequarters 'cross the threshold.  It froze thence, halfway in the room, and stared first at them and then critically examined the draped Seeing Stone ere it withdrew.  The Elves traded a glance.  Beinvír shrugged.

  Now when came the evening meal, Helluin and Beinvír's presence was't again requested by the queen.  Again they sat with the prince in the dining room of silver and black, and after saying the blessing, the queen remarked upon a certain trespass of her guests.

  "It hast come to my attention that thou entered the Chamber of the Palantír this afternoon," Berúthiel said with a scowl, "and such is now forbidden by the king."

  Helluin and Beinvír looked at each other.  The white cat entered with its limp rat and made its way to the queen's feet where it again deposited the carcass upon the queen's slipper.  Berúthiel sniffled and her eyelid ticced.

  "As thou say, O Queen, we hath entered the chamber," Helluin admitted, "yet neither guards stayed us nor were warnings posted prohibiting our going.  Long aforetime we stood thither with King Anárion and King Isildur, and the Prince Meneldur, and in those days they had great profit by it.  Yet it seemed to us today as though a long time hast passed since that place was't frequented, for there was't no custodian and dust lay upon the floor and o'er the stone's shroud.  I pray thee, whyfore hast King Tarannon sought not to converse with his brothers to the north?"

  The queen's gaze darkened at being questioned and her jaw tightened as did her grip upon her fork and knife.

  "'Tis at the king's whim alone whether or not he shalt seek visions in that bauble from the West, and 'tis not the place of guests to question his wisdom in the use of his own.  Foremother of kings thou may be, O Helluin, but thou art herein a guest only and I counsel thee to conduct thyself as such.  The palantír is forbidden."

  Helluin noted that the white cat was't watching her closely from 'neath the table and as yet no black cats had joined their board.  'Cross the table, Berúthiel's eyelid quickened its tic until she grimaced and raised a hand to still it by rubbing.

  "Very well," Helluin said, then tilting her head to indicate the white cat, she asked, "I hath heard rumors that thy cat hast attained a great age and hast the power of speech.  Doth some enchantment lie upon it?"

  "Now thou harp upon the cat?"  Berúthiel asked in amazement.  "Thou art Elda.  If any hither can'st discern the enchantment upon a cat, t'would be thou, I wager."  A sly smile graced her lips.  "Here now, I shalt greatly enjoy witnessing thee holding converse with it, therein to see that of which I myself am accused indeed accomplished."

  Straightaway the queen beckoned her chamberlain to gather the white cat from her feet and directed him to lift it to the table.  The Man did so, placing the cat upon a silver tray and setting before Helluin's place.  It stared at her as if smirking.  Helluin schooled her features as if resisting the urge to roll her eyes at the absurdity of the suggestion, but ere the cat could draw away its gaze, she seized it with her will and constrained it thither immobile.  Thence the Light of the Two Trees kindled in her face and her eyes blazed with a ril of sapphire 'neath which the cat seemed to cringe.

  "Fáne miuco, malúce lumnet?¹", Helluin demanded.  "Man mauyatya núreno?²" ¹(Fáne miuco, malúce lumnet?,White cat, what enchantment lies heavy upon thou? =fáne(white) + miuco(cat) + ma-(what) + lúce(enchantment) + lumne-(lie heavy upon) + -t(2nd pers obj pro suff, you)  Quenya)  ²(Man mauyatya núreno?, Who commands thy obedience? = man(who) + mauya-(compel) + -tya(2nd pers poss pro suff, your) + núre-(obey) + -no(noun on verb suff, agent, obedience) Quenya)

  Rather than voice an answer, the cat howled as if it had been burnt.  Almost it seemed to try to writhe out of its skin, yet 'twas held thither upon the platter as if its feet were glued or grew as roots in deep soil from the metal.  The prince recoiled in shock, but Berúthiel sat still with the hint of a grin upon her lips.  Beinvír marked that the tic of her right eyelid had increased to a twitching so pronounced as to be well 'nigh a blink.

  Helluin regarded the cat sternly and exerted yet more strongly her will upon it.  'Twas recalcitrant, she deemed, and the spell upon it was't very strong and long entrenched.

"Á mauyan tye!  Quenat!¹"  Helluin demanded even more harshly.  She blazed with Light, silver and gold. ¹("Á mauyan tye!  Quenat!, I command you!  Speak!= á(1st pers imp) + mauya-(compel) + -n(1st pers sub pro suff, I) + tye(indep 2nd pers sing pro, you)!  quena-(speak) + -t(2nd pers pro suff, you)  Quenya)

  Still the cat made no answer, but within its skin its flesh indeed struggled against the Noldo's power.  The blue flames grew brighter in Helluin's eyes, while'st she perceived a depth of darkness in the pupils of the white cat akin to a bottomless pit.  From that pit did a will contest with her own, and no answer had she wrung from the feline.  'Twas but one only she knew of who could match her thus, battling will to will, and he had been foremost in her mind of late.  The cat's continued resistance kindled her wrath to the fury of battle at the recognition of her enemy.

  And now indeed so radiant did Helluin's figure become that the queen, the prince, and the chamberlain were forced to shield their eyes.  Only Beinvír could look upon her.  Yet who, having seen the Light of the Two Trees, even at secondhand through the Palantír of Elostirion, could be cowed by that same Light blazing from an incarnate fëa.  A slow smoldering rose from the wood of the dining table and tendrils of wood smoke curled up about the white cat, which was't still rooted upon its platter.

  "Móreanauta nát, ten i súle Sauromir!¹"  Helluin declared. ¹(Móreanauta nát, ten i súle Sauromir!  Black bound thou art, by the breath of the Abhorrent One(Sauron)! = mórea(black) + nauta(bound) + ná-(is, are) + -t(2nd pers pro suff, you) + ten(because, by) + i(the) + súle(breath) + Saur(a)(abhorrent) + -o(sing gen suff, of) + -mir(agent in names)  Quenya)

  Now by force of long habit Helluin reached to grasp the Sarchram, but along with all their weapons it had been sequestered by the Doorwarden of the Court of Osgiliath, and her hand closed upon 'naught but emptiness at her belt. She had fully intended to slay the white cat, for the strength of its resistance proved to her beyond a doubt that 'twas in league with the Enemy.  When she felt the absence of the fëa banishing weapon, her frustration exploded, and in that moment her concentration faltered a fraction.

  In the next instant the white cat, who had been wholly consumed in its struggle against the Noldo's power, seized this moment of respite and broke free of the grasp of Helluin's will.  It bolted up and fled with such a violent flurry of scrabbling claws that the platter upon which it had stood was't flung to the floor.  In a heartbeat 'twas out the door and gone.

  Now 'twas long ere Helluin mastered her wrath; the discovery of her enemy's hand in Gondor confirmed her suspicions of his renewed menace, while'st her failure to vanquish his agent for lack of the appropriate weapon left her seething.  A calming hand Beinvír laid upon her thigh 'neath the table and a comforting look of her eyes the Green Elf gifted to her beloved.

  'Tis but a setback, anamelda, a small thing in thy war, the Green Elf said silently, and we both know that many such delays shalt come to pass in the days ahead.  As the Lord Isildur said long aforetime, this war shalt indeed last through years uncounted.

  Slowly the dark Noldo calmed herself and finally she turned thence her attention to the queen.

  "O Queen, thy cat is surely a thrall of the Great Enemy Sauron, and much mischief can'st he bring to thy realm and thy people," she said.

  But Berúthiel looked unnaturally calm in the face of this dire warning, and the prince was't horrified, indeed she seemed unaffected by what she had witnessed.  Helluin and Beinvír noted the strange brightness in her eyes.

  "'Twas quite a display thou hast engaged in at my table, Elf," said the queen, "and yet it proves 'naught.  Bah!  I say the white cat is but a cat.  What expected thou?  That it should transform at thy words into a daemon?  Indeed I am more shocked by thy manners.  Thou hath failed again and again to conduct thyself with the decorum befitting a guest of the royal court.  Once a commoner, ever a commoner, t'would seem.  I find myself appalled.  Therefore in the absence of my king, I am forced to banish thee both from the southern realm forthwith.  Go!  Get the hence from my sight."

  Berúthiel's logic was't obviously contrived by some enchantment lain upon her; words whispered long ago and oft repeated held her thrall.  While'st  Helluin and Beinvír looked at the queen in shock, she, with lips curled in a sneer, gestured for her chamberlain to summon the guards.  When she looked back at the two ellith, 'twas plain to see the madness that so unnaturally enlivened her eyes. 

In silence Helluin rose from her seat at the table and Beinvír followed.  She dipped her head to the queen and the prince and then strode from the chamber with gritted teeth.   

Outside in the hall the guards stood waiting and in their company the Elves returned to their chamber to collect their belongings.  Thither two black cats awaited them.  Helluin groaned at the sight of them.

  We find thee a true and courageous friend of Gondor, said the first black cat.

  And a lot of good it hath done either we or thou, Helluin replied with resignation.

  Yet thou hath exposed both the madness of the queen and the complicity of the white cat with the Enemy, the second black cat said, not bad for a day's work.  The prince shalt surely report 'aught of this to his brother the king upon his return to Gondor.

  And I deem that thou hast done more than merely enter the forbidden Chamber of the Palantír, the first cat added with a knowing blink.

  All thou say is true, Beinvír told them, yet 'twas not enough to change 'aught for the better this day.  All shalt proceed as 'twas aforetime, I wager.

  For a time perhaps, but not forever, the second cat agreed, adding, yet now I and my sister hath a boon to beg of thee.

  Helluin raised an eyebrow in question, bidding it continue.

  'Tis no longer safe for us to remain hither, for the white hath marked our dissent.  We beg thee therefore, let us join thee upon the road for a time…a short time as thou of everlasting life would reckon it.  Unlike thee, foreigners who might be banished, we art saddled with charges of treason…and think thou not that the queen shalt fail to act.  The white whispers poison in her ears and bends her to his will.  To stay now would be our death.  Such hast happened aforetime.

  What say thee?  The first cat asked hopefully.

  At this request, Helluin sighed and threw up her hands in capitulation.  She had never shared the company of a cat for any length of time.  Beside her Beinvír chuckled and Helluin glanced at the Green Elf.

  Surely 'tis fitting that a couple such as we should hath a pair of cats, Beinvír said.

  Helluin shrugged her surrender to the suggestion and turned to gather up her travel bag and bedroll.  Keep up, she muttered to the cats, ere she and Beinvír turned from the room and rejoined the guards for their march to the gate.

  'Twas fully night when the two ellith and their two black cats made their way to the gate of Osgiliath.  In leaving the palace Helluin rejoiced most at the return of her weapons, and indeed the Doorwarden of Osgiliath was't only too glad to be done with them.  For the relief of their boredom Anguirél and the Sarchram had spent the last two days threatening him unmercifully, though Helluin knew 'naught of this.

  The black cats had silently followed the Elves through the palace and into the streets with one incident only that any would deem worthy of remark.  'Nigh the doors of the Dome of Stars the palace guards had been replaced by the very same soldiers who had first escorted them thither from the park.  In their company was't the very same dog and it immediately clove to Beinvír's side.  She greeted it with a smile and a pat upon the head.  As they made their way hence into the forum before the palace, Helluin caught a glimpse of white slinking along a wall nearby and she nudged the Green Elf's shoulder.  Beinvír looked thither and her sharp eyes spied the white cat sitting and watching them, smirking and well satisfied with their banishment.  It irked her.

  At her softly whispered words¹, the dog wrenched its leash free from its handler and charged 'cross the forum in pursuit of the white cat.  Very nearly the dog caught it in its jaws, and then gave chase 'till it disappeared down a drainage slot in the paving.  The dog then trotted back, with wagging tail, a doggy smile, and a dangling tongue, to receive the praise and pats of the Green Elf and the scolding of its handler, (to which it seemed to pay no attention at all).  Thereafter it behaved in exemplary fashion but took the liberty of generously licking the two black cats as if they were pups.  The cats cringed at being anointed with copious dog saliva, but they endured it and strayed not from the Elves' sides, while'st the Elves chuckled to themselves at the sight of it.  ¹(Most likely "Ego rýn!" - "Go, hound of chase!", or some similar command.  Sindarin) 

  The escorts bade them farewell at the city gates and thereafter the two Elves and their two black cats took their footsteps straightaway northwest by the road from Osgiliath to Minas Arnor.  That night they went only so far as the crossroads ere they trudged into a field and threw down their things in disgust.  Thither they made a cheerless camp.  Neither elleth had an appetite, and so after starting a fire and sharing a pot of tea, they unrolled their ground cloths and lay down pretending to rest.

  "Tuor would turn in his grave, aye, and Elrond shalt certainly be ill to know what hath befallen his brother's people," Helluin carped through clenched teeth as Ithil made his way 'cross the night sky.  Through the hours of darkness the Noldo uttered similar disparaging comments as she brooded upon the state of Gondor.  It seemed an unusually long time ere dawn.

  "I hear thou art discomfited by the appearance yet again of an unbalanced queen of thy bloodline," Beinvír chided, disturbed once more from her semblance of rest by her partner's griping.  Helluin groaned at the truth of it, recalling yet again Tar-Ancalime.

  "Go catch thou a mouse or some such fitting vermin," she rebuked the cats when she noted them staring at her ere she rolled upon her side and gritted her teeth in silence.  In response, the cats curled up upon the further side of the Green Elf and pretended to sleep as cats art wont to do.

  Now in the tales of latter days, when Queen Berúthiel is recalled at all, some loremasters say she had a dozen cats, one white and eleven black.  Others say twelve black and one white, while'st more tales tell of ten cats, one white and nine black¹.  Amongst the Wise, some scholars of pedantic predilection hath been given to arguing o'er the count of the cats, for the visit of Helluin and Beinvír and their banishment from Osgiliath was't struck from the records of the court.  In any case, 'tis a fated irony that in her own time, Queen Berúthiel and her remaining cats were banished from the southern realm by the order of the king.  Of yet greater irony is the fact that they were commanded to go by ship.  ¹(An extant fragment from JRRT gives the total as 10, 1 white and 9 black.  UT, Pt 4, Ch II, The Istari, pg 402)

To Be Continued

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